3rd Sunday of Pascha – The Myrrhbearing Women

Just do the right thing.  All the time.  God will roll away the stone.

Mark 15:43 - 16:8



In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 


Christ is risen!  Truly He is risen!  Christos voskrese!  Voistinu voskrese!


Brothers and sisters, when we read the Scriptures, sometimes there must be detailed exegesis in order to really understand it, such as we say the Lord was the Bread from Heaven, or speaking about the Eucharist or the Beatitudes, or other places in the Scripture which are really theologically dense, and take a lot of study to understand. 


And other times, like today, it's a story and we glean the characteristics of the people involved from what they did.  Their actions show us their personalities, and teach us theology if we listen. 


This is one of those times. 

St Joseph of Arimathea and Nikodemus and the Myrhhbearing women at the cross https://www.orthodox.net//ikons/cross-joseph-and-nicodemus-01.jpg

This is the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women.  We also celebrate Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who took down Christ from the Cross and buried Him in Joseph's tomb. 


And we know the story. 


The women, after the Sabbath had passed, early Sunday morning, at five or six, when the sun is coming up, and they are going to the tomb.  And they wondered, who can roll away the stone from the tomb because it's very big.  They don't know how they're going to do it, and yet they still go, and they were going with myrrh and aloes in order to anoint a dead man.  And they went at a time when it was dangerous to go.  They were approaching a tomb where there were armed soldiers who could have killed them and nobody would have thought anything of it.  And yet they went.


It's interesting, if you look at the tense of the verb tense; it says he became bold[1].  He became bold and craved the body of Jesus from Pilate.  He wasn't bold before, but he became bold. 


This teaches us something, I think, if we listen.  There are times when we are not very bold.  But there are critical moments in our life; we have to stand up and we have to be bold.  And God will help us with it. 


We don't always get it right.  Joseph didn't.  Joseph heard all of His teachings.  So did Nicodemus.  Nicodemus, very early in the Gospel of John, saw Christ and He said, “you must be born again”, and Nicodemus didn't understand it.  But they still followed Christ, and they were still in their positions of authority and they couldn't quite give them up because they weren't really sure.  They loved Christ but they weren't so sure, not as sure as Peter and James and John and the rest, who had left all to follow Him[2].  And yet when it came to a critical moment in Joseph's life, he became bold, and he went in to get the body of Jesus. 


The Gospel today also describes a critical moment in the lives of the Myrrhbearers.  Their teacher, their friend, their son in one case, had given them so much hope, and then He died in a horrible way, and yet there was something they had to do.  They had to go and anoint Him because of love.  They were bold too.


To become bold doesn't mean you do something without being scared.  It means you do something despite the fact that you're scared, or confused, or whatever.  


That's what courage is.  Courage is to do things regardless of how you feel, and that's what the Myrrhbearing Women did, and that's what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did, and that's what we must do.  And there will be moments in our life when we have to be bold, not just one, but many moments. 


There are critical moments in our life; we must stand up and be Christians, especially in a society now that is ceasing to be Christian in so many ways.  Some would say, we should say it has ceased to be Christian.  But certainly in so many ways, even when it calls itself Christian, it is a far thing from true Christianity, true morality.  We call ourselves Christian but we must be true, so that takes courage. 


So there are critical moments in your life that will happen.  They will happen again and again.  If you do not notice them, if you have not noticed them, then you have already lost because I tell you, they've happened.  In the work place, with friends, with family, they happen, where you have to be bold, and you have to stand up for truth.  Perhaps you will shake a little bit in your boots, but you must stand up for truth just as the Myrrhbearers did. 


And also, it doesn't matter, when you stand up for this truth, whether you deem it possible or not or that there are going to be good or bad consequences from what you do.  Really, you just do what's right.  That's a good slogan, if you will, or a good way of life. 


Just do the right thing.  All the time. 


Or, shall we say, what you think is right.  Because the Myrrhbearers thought they were doing the right thing, or they were trying to do something that was impossible.  They were trying to anoint a dead Man when actually He was alive.  But God counts it towards their righteousness because of their hearts.  So we must do what is right, even when it's difficult. 


There are a lot of critical moments when you must do what's right and you don't see that a good consequence is going to come, or perhaps you don't see that anything good is going to happen, or perhaps you think maybe nothing is going to change.  I have that temptation all the time.  So what?  Serving Vespers, is anything really going to change?  Yes, a lot is going to change.  I know that in my heart.  But my head doesn't always feel it.  And since I am human, I think I know something about you guys since you're human and you feel the same thing sometimes. 


So the women go to the tomb thinking, who is going to roll away the stone, a gigantic stone in front of the tomb with large guards in front of the tomb with swords.  How in the world were they going to get in the tomb?  They had no idea, no idea at all.  Someone might say that was a fool's errand that they hadn't figured out what to do.  But they knew it was right and they just did it. 


That's how we should do things.  I'm not saying we shouldn't plan our lives.  I'm not saying we shouldn't plan when we want to do something that's good and decide how we are going to do it.  Absolutely.  But there's a certain point in your life where you might say I'm going to do what's right no matter what the consequences are or no matter how we are even going to do it.


To be honest with you, my mind is really quite a bit preoccupied right now, trying to get into the temple[3].  In many ways, the temple has had big stones around it.  Mike and I were just talking yesterday.  I don't know if you know this.  We had money with a bank and we were going to take the money out so that it would be available so that we can purchase the land.  This was several years ago.  We didn't know it, but this was just before a financial crisis in which the money that we had in that money market would have been worth less than 25 percent of its value.  We took it out and two weeks later, poof!  God guided us.  We didn't know it at the time.  We would have been destitute, but it didn't happen. 


So now, we go through with a lot of difficulties and, really, some real big difficulties at the end.  But if any of you are runners -- some of us are -- you know, the littlest hill seems really, really, really big at the end of your run. 


So we're at the end, and there are some little hills, but they seem really, really big, but God will help us.  Just applying what these people did in this Gospel.  Do what's right.  We pray, we fast, we struggle, and God will help us. 


Someone is going to roll away the stone.  I'm not sure how, but it's going to happen.  I think that's the way we need to live our lives.  And the impossible becomes possible.


Christianity is all about the impossible being made possible.  God says that we are to be perfect.  It's not an idle command.  This is what we are to become:  Perfect.  It doesn't seem very possible, not when I take stock of my life, and yet it is happening; that stone is being rolled away right now. 


So we must do what's right.  We must look for critical moments in our life and just do what's right, no matter how hard it seems.  No matter how impossible it seems.  No matter whether it seems like it's going to have good consequences or bad. 


Sometimes I'm speaking of actual critical moments where there is something you must do and it could have a good result or a bad result and you don't know what's going to happen.  For the most part in our life, we must just do what's right.


We must pray; we must fast; we must struggle even though we don't feel or see the results from this[4]. 


If you're a Christian, you know the results are happening, but you don't really see them - sort of like a flower opening.  You don't see it open and yet, in a day or two, it has bloomed.  That's what the Christian life is like.  We don't see our flower opening.  We don't see our stone being rolled away, and yet it gets rolled away. 


There's another thing that I gleaned from the lives from this story about the Myrrhbearers.  So they go to the tomb.  Picture yourself.  You're going to the tomb; you're scared half to death because this is dangerous what you're doing.  You can go to the soldiers and they might just kill you.  And so you go, not knowing how you're going to get past the soldiers, how you're going to get into the tomb.  And then the soldiers are gone or laying about as stupefied, terrified men, the stone has been rolled away and you speak to an angel[5].  What an amazing thing. 


Now, if this was a Hollywood movie then suddenly they would be so filled with joy and be singing and dancing.  That's not how it happened, is it?  They were afraid.  They were confused.  It took multiple times of the Lord appearing on that day to really have people really understand anything, and Thomas didn't understand for eight days. 


So God reveals things to us but we don't get it.  God's grace is present, working in us now, but we don't completely see it.  We are like these women.  He's risen; He's not here.  But we're confused.  Maybe afraid, maybe despondent, whatever human emotion or failing you want to name.  And yet God is working in us.  God is here.  God is present.  God lives within us.  But we don't apprehend it.  It's really a deep mystery why we don't.  But even in the midst of that, eventually we have become aware of what God has revealed.


This is one of the many stories in the Gospel that shows our life in microcosm.  It's not just a story of people going to a tomb and the tomb being empty.  This is a story of our soul's journey in life, through difficulty, through things that make us afraid, make us confused- trying to do the right thing, not knowing exactly how to get it done.  And then the tomb is opened.  We still don't quite understand, but we will.  We will understand.  This is our life.  This is why these stories have been preserved, because they describe us.  They describe the human soul.  They describe the human need for God and how we can fulfill that need. 


All of us are on the journey to the tomb - not knowing exactly how we're going to get the stone rolled away or how we're going to deal with the guards.


If you want to make the guards a metaphor, they can be our passions or the world or anything else.  The stone can be our hardheartedness, the deadness inside us, our own weaknesses and passions that make it so difficult for us to do well.  All we know is that we look through a glass darkly[6].


We will see face-to-face, just like these Myrrhbearers did.  All we need to do is just keep going, keep walking to the tomb and believing that God will roll away the stone.  He will; He's guaranteed it.  I think you feel it in your heart.  But if you're like me and I know you are, sometimes you don't feel it in your head.  That's when you've just got to keep walking, one foot in front of the other, praying, fasting, struggling, doing what's right, trying to find out what's right, looking for those moments when you really must stand up and be a Christian, when there's a cross to be paid for it.  And then God will help you.  And you will get to the tomb and it will be opened.  That's the Christian life.  May God help us to live it.  Amen.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2010    


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[1] It is really important to read a translation that understands verb tenses and other aspects of Greek grammar. All the paraphrasements are useless for this, and they are tainted by a Protestant mindset in most cases. A good article about this is at: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/10/holy-scripture-in-orthodox-church.html. Most English translations get this verb tense wrong. Even the generally at least reasonably accurate King James version has “Joseph boldly…”, when the actual verb tense is “became bold”. 

[2] Matthew 4:18-22 KJV  “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.  (19)  And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  (20)  And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.  (21)  And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.  (22)  And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”

[3] We were building our temple in McKinney at the time, and had many financial setbacks and difficulties with the city.

[4] I have had the unpleasant experience many times of seeing those indoctrinated with the modern reformers heresies considering this to be “works”. We truly use the same words, but speak a different language. In what important endeavor, can we make progress without effort? (None).

[5] The Gospels accounts indicate that there were multiple visits by different groups of people to the tomb. Each describes slightly different details.


For instance, in Mathew, the visit by Mary Magdalene and the Theotokos is described as follows, and shows that they saw the stone rolled away, and the guards “as dead men”:


“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.  (2)  And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.  (3)  His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:  (4)  And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” (Mat 28:1-4 KJV)


St Mark’s gospel does not mention any guards:


“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.  (2)  And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.  (3)  And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?  (4)  And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.  (5)  And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.” (Mar 16:1-5)


St Luke’s gospels describes yet another visitation, where the stone is clearly already rolled away (and appears to include Joseph and Nikodemus in the party):


“And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.  (50)  And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just:  (51)  (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.  (52)  This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.  (53)  And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.  (54)  And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.  (55)  And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.  (56)  And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.  (24:1)  Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.  (2)  And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.  (3)  And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.”

(Luke 23:49-24:4)

[6] 1Corinthians13:12 KJV For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.